So You're an Idealist With a Rational Boss. How Do You Communicate?

Like him or tolerate him, your boss plays a big part in your life. He is single-handedly responsible for your day-to-day happiness at work, and he could also influence your job opportunities throughout the rest of your career. Obviously, there’s a far greater chance that your boss will open rather than close doors for you if you make the effort to get along.

That’s harder to practice than it is to preach.

The majority of leaders are Rational (NT) personality types. These people possess certain characteristics that make them effective in leadership positions such as goal-orientation, competency and problem solving. Organizations love NTs because they tend to do whatever it takes to achieve the company’s goals – even if that means making some tough, and potentially heartless, decisions along the way.

Idealists, on the other hand, experience these traits as friction. They groove to cooperation and diplomacy, not logic and mastery, and are focused on relationships and human potential. The differences can lead to misunderstanding, poor relationships and lack of respect. They can also make constructive communication difficult, if not explosive in some circumstances.

When there’s a power imbalance, it’s usually up to the person who has the most to lose to adapt themselves to the situation. For an Idealist employee, this means understanding the motivations of your Rational boss so you can make the best of the situation.

To help out, here are some strategies to help you find common ground with your Rational boss. Try to use some or all of these tips to earn your manager’s respect and get your job done.

1. Schedule when you communicate with your boss

Rationals don’t like walk-in interruptions because you’re disrupting their flow, which is inefficient for both of you. Therefore, don’t inundate your boss with a series of “quick questions” or email after email. Instead, schedule conversations with your manager. This will help to streamline your communications and force you to stay on-topic. Your boss likes efficiency and you need to respect that.

2. Start with the bottom line

To persuade rationally, you’re going to have to provide data, facts and logical arguments, such as tangible cost reductions or evidence of added value. Rationals are goal-oriented; they like having the numbers. If you give them a spreadsheet they’ll be delighted – numerical data speaks for itself. Use this to your advantage.

3. Don’t beat around the bush

Idealists are skilled at spotting connections that others may not be able to see, but less skilled at explaining those connections. A Rational boss won’t take you seriously if you jump haphazardly from topic to topic or speak in vague terms and metaphor, which is the Idealist’s normal way of communicating. Language should be direct and brief – Rationals enjoy rigorous debate if the situation requires it but, in general, the shortest communication is the best. Your boss will probe deeper if questions are proposed.

4. Think problem-solution

The Rational thought process follows the problem-solution model: what problems are we trying to solve and how does this proposal solve them? Therefore, it's smart to always bring at least one solution to the table. Your idea doesn’t have to be tried and tested – in fact, your Rational boss will appreciate it if you dream up new possibilities to test out. But it does have to be specific. Always be able to tell your boss where the team is now, where it is going, and how it is going to get there. If you focus on these talking points, you'll be seen as a problem-solver, and you will be well spoken for.

5. Be prepared

No matter how thorough your plan, a Rational boss will want to probe and scrutinize it, so be prepared to debate and justify. Do plenty of preparation so you know the “what,” “why,” and “how” of the situation. When you have made your case, step back and give your boss space to fill in the blanks. The effective employee is a sounding board who retains a balance between experimenting with new ideas and skepticism to debate any flaws in the reasoning.

6. Be very clear about outcomes

Rationals are born philosophers. They could debate complicated concepts all day, every day; a trait that can mark them out as argumentative. They can also switch sides in a debate in a nanosecond, leaving you confused about what you have agreed to do next. Take a moment to clarify outcomes. Always repeat back what you think your boss has said and ask “Is that what you meant?” That way, you’ll take the correct action and avoid wasting valuable time by barking up the wrong tree.

7. Don’t brush problems under the carpet

Rational bosses are skilled at putting fires out. If a problem emerges, your boss will want to know about it straight away. You’ll earn respect by responding to the situation proactively, and never keeping your boss in the dark. Don’t worry about the consequences of admitting to your own role in the mistake. As leaders, Rationals are generally even-tempered and make good and fair critics. As long as you’re making a competent effort to fix the situation, it’s unlikely that a Rational boss would hold an error against you.

8. Tell her when she's out of line

Some Rational bosses, notably ENTJs, will work collaboratively, but tend to use team members as resources, not seeing them as people. When operating below her peak, your Rational boss might ride roughshod over the team’s feelings and opinions, so it's important to keep her in check. Rationals are rarely thin-skinned and are also aware of their own limitations. Most will notice your initiative and appreciate the constructive feedback.

9. Don’t wait for praise

As far as your boss is concerned, it’s up to you to become aware of your own achievements and to judge yourself against this yardstick, so don’t get demoralized if you are not receiving constant praise. Since feedback is important to you, schedule a monthly or quarterly review meeting. You’ll feel better knowing that you have had an opportunity to present your accomplishments, and your boss will respect your desire for improvement and understanding of the way in which you have positively contributed to the company’s bottom line.

In summary

Effective communication with your boss starts with you. You need to approach it a certain way for the conversation to be as productive as possible so you can minimize the divide between the Rational and Idealist communication styles. If nurtured properly, this relationship will last a lifetime and you will forever have a Rational boss on your side and supporting you throughout your career.

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a freelance copywriter, business writer and the blog editor here at Truity. One part word nerd, two parts skeptic, she helps clients discover the amazing power of words on a page. She lives with her ENTX husband and children in Yorkshire, UK, where she drinks a lot of tea and loves winding people up. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

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